Omaha fire investigators say the blaze that took the lives of two children in a mobile home at 12816 Manderson Plaza, in Maplewood Estates, was accidental and probably caused by space heaters.
The fire happened Wednesday, December 18. Three-year-old Gabriel Rodriguez and his three-month-old brother Brandon Rodriguez died in the blaze. One-year-old Adrianna Rodriguez and the children's mother, 18-year-old Champaine Harn, were injured, Harn critically.
Fire investigators say "it is highly probable that the fire was caused by the usage of space heaters, which were used throughout the dwelling including the living room area. This area was determined to be the area of origin for this fatal fire."
Investigators also determined that a smoke detector was present in the kitchen of the dwelling but was not working due to a lack of batteries in the detector.
Autopsy information is incomplete and preliminary. Investigators say that the official cause of death for the two children will be released once the autopsies are complete.
Champaine Harn was upgraded to serious condition on Friday. Champaine’s mother, Tammy Salas, says her daughter can nod her head but is unable to talk because she still requires a respirator.
On Friday, the owners and managers of the Maplewood Estates issued the following statement:
Our hearts and prayers go out to the survivors and their families for the loss they have suffered. Wednesday morning’s tragic events, resulting in the death of two children, reminds us all how precious life is and the strength we can find in our neighbors and community during times of great difficulty. Members of the Maplewood Estates community and the Omaha Fire Department deserve special recognition for their efforts in trying to prevent this tragedy and for their outpouring of support towards the survivors and their family.
While the inoperative hydrant made no difference on Wednesday, it has raised questions about the maintenance of hydrants.
We’re told that because the mobile home park is private, it's up to them to maintain the hydrants. On Wednesday, we saw Maplewood Estates maintenance teams testing various hydrants in the park. We spotted 17 in the area.
Neighbors have voiced concerns and we’ve heard from people around the metro who wonder whether the hydrants outside of their homes work.
While the Metropolitan Utilities District maintains and tests 26,000 hydrants around the city, it doesn't have anything to do with the mobile home park since it's on private property.
The mobile home park management is in charge of monitoring, much like apartments that also, typically have private lines.
Omaha fire officials calls the mobile home park a "water compromised" area. That’s why firefighters brought extra water in for Wednesday’s fire, including a 1,000 gallon truck, enough water to target a fire for 10 straight minutes.
There are other parts of town that are also raise questions. We didn't see any hydrants in a mobile home park just north of 168th and West Dodge. And while there are hydrants among the acreages north of 140th and Blondo, the fire department knows it may need to come with more water there as well.
The bottom line is that MUD keeps tabs on the majority of hydrants. For the others, the homeowners or renters may want to make sure the landlords are doing the proper maintenance.